Lebanon asks Russia for satellite images from day of Beirut blast

President Vladimir Putin said his country was ready to assess the request if it helps with the investigation

Lebanon has asked Russia to provide satellite images taken on the day of the massive Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people and destroyed large parts of the capital last year.

President Michel Aoun made the request during a meeting with Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said Russia was ready to assess Lebanon’s request for satellite images if it helps with the investigation.

“President Aoun…formally asked Ambassador Rudakov to inform the Russian authorities of Lebanon's interest in obtaining these images, which could provide additional information that could benefit the probe,” a statement by the president’s office said.

The probe into the blast has suffered several setbacks since its launch more than a year ago, with the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies recently accusing the lead investigator of political bias.

Judge Tarek Bitar had indicted five senior officials among others for criminal negligence in connection with the blast.

Among those indicted is former prime minister Hassan Diab, who stepped down following the explosion, along with four ex-ministers, including two members of speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc.

All five had snubbed Mr Bitar’s summons, arguing he had no authority to prosecute them in line with the constitution.

More than a year after the blast, it remains unclear what triggered the explosion of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, who owned the explosive chemicals or why they were stored at the port for more than six years.

Media reports have linked the explosive fertilisers to businessmen close to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a staunch ally of Hezbollah.

A protest led by Hezbollah earlier this month to demand the removal of Mr Bitar ended in bloodshed after demonstrations turned into armed clashes that left seven dead.

Hezbollah has accused its political rival, the Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF), of firing at protestors to instigate civil strife. The LF has denied the accusations, arguing that Hezbollah’s loyalists fuelled the clashes with local residents after storming and vandalising property in areas that used to separate Christian and Shiite neighbourhoods during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

Ministers affiliated with the Iran-backed party and their allies have since blocked the government from convening, arguing it must first replace Mr Bitar.

Mr Bitar replaced Judge Fadi Sawan who was ousted by the Supreme Court after two former ministers questioned his impartiality.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on three lawsuits filed by Mr Diab and two other ministers, claiming he violated the law by prosecuting senior officials who should instead be tried before a special body that comprises senior judges and parliamentarians.

The lawsuits forced Mr Bitar to suspend hearing sessions that had been scheduled this week for Mr Diab and two ex-ministers.

The resignation of Mr Diab's government following the blast left Lebanon without a functioning Cabinet for more than a year, accelerating the country's financial meltdown and economic woes.

Earlier this year, the World Bank described Lebanon's crisis as one of the most severe globally since the 1850s.

Updated: November 22nd 2021, 11:57 AM